How to Choose a Coffee Grinder
Choosing a coffee grinder is a no-brainer for the time conscience coffee connoisseur. Once making the switch to home ground coffee, they’re the obvious choice if you have the money: they produce a grind more quickly and more evenly than the human hand could.
Or that’s how it’s supposed to work.
Finding a grinder that will give you that convenience and luxury can be difficult. There’s a seemingly endless number of qualities that companies list which you should take into account when choosing a coffee grinder. It can be overwhelming. The best solution would be to try all the grinders out there, but considering the number of grinders out there, that would be difficult.
There are lists to help, published everywhere from Consumer Reports to niche sites, but it just as important to understand the qualities of the coffee grinders they recommend as it is to see the recommendations. That way you can choose the best one for your situation.
To help with this process, this article will go through the different types of things to take into consideration when choosing a coffee grinder. It details the differences between the different types and recommends whether there is an indisputable best choice or whether the difference is best made based on personal preference.
Blade vs Burr
There are two main types of grinders, blade and burr. Blade grinders are the original mechanized grinder. They use propellor-like blades to slice the beans into a fine grind. Also, they are small, portable, and cheap. On the other hand, burr grinders grind coffee in a chamber made of either cones or discs with serrated edges. They come with customizable settings so one can achieve their favorite grind, but are also bulky and expensive.
Ultimately, blade grinders can’t produce a fine grind in the same way as burr grinders because the propellers will never be able to. Not only that, but blade grinders are noisy and can reach a high temperature, burning the coffee. On top of that, over time the blades on blade grinders will dull.
Comparatively, burr grinders are designed to produce even grinds and because of how they are designed. As such, burr grinders are definitely the right way to go, even if they cost a little more. The produce a better grind, are customizable, and last longer.
Manual vs Electric
Now there’s not just one type of burr grinder. There are several types to consider when choosing a burr grinder. The first thing to consider would be manual versus electric. Manual grinders require manual labor, as the name implies, being powered by a crank that you, the owner, turn to grind the beans. The amount of work you need to put in can vary based on the type of grind you are trying to achieve. Electric grinders, by comparison, only require you to load the beans into a hopper, adjust a few settings, and press a button.
Most often, portable burr grinders are manual. However, if you want to achieve a fine grind or regularly grind a lot of coffee beans, then using a manual grinder could turn into quite the workout. Still, if you want a coarse grind or don’t mind a little workout, they are definitely the more economic and environmentally friendly option. If not, electric grinders, while more expensive are much more convenient to use, producing your desired grind in seconds by comparison to the many minutes a manual grinder would require.
Considering these things, this is much more a choice that should be left to personal preference and priorities than any one type of grinder triumphing because of one quality. If you prefer cheap to convenient then go with the manual grinder. On the other hand, if you value convenience above all else, definitely go with electric.
Conical vs Flat
In addition to the difference between manual and electric grinders, there’s also the difference what kinds of burrs are doing the grinding in the grinding chamber. Flat burrs are shaped like discs and put in parallel, while conical burrs are shaped like cones. Each is paired inside the chambers, with a small space between them.
There’s no clear consensus on which of these produces a better grind, though both are definitely better than blades, there are still some differences. Conical burrs grind beans slower than flat, thus are less likely to burn beans. Still, some models have flat burrs with heat transferring effects as well. Furthermore, conical burrs tend to be in cheaper grinders while flat burrs are in more expensive ones.
Stepped vs Stepless
The specificity of customization you can get with a grinder can get even deeper with these 2 types. Stepped grinders come with specific settings or ‘steps’. These settings can range from 3 to 80, where the less precise having only options like coarse, fine, and espressos and the more wide-ranging having everything from a powder to a medium grind. A notable stepped coffee grinder is the reasonably priced Baratza Virtuoso.
Stepless, on the other hand, don’t have explicit assigned points. They allow you to adjust the space between the burrs in the chamber, thus the grind, enabling you to grind beans into anything from 5 to 10 micron particles to medium grind. Some grinders have even brought this specificity even further, building in adjustment settings for both big and small changes in the grind.
This isn’t really a matter of better or worse, but more a choice of how many options you want to have. Still, stepped grinders are cheaper than stepless. Either way, if you buy a low end grinder, nothing is going to save you. But if you buy a higher level grinder, it will probably be a good one whether it is stepped or stepless. To avoid headaches just make your choice out of a group of reputable brands. Having a few good grinders to choose from is definitely better than having many different bad ones.
Doser vs Doserless
A doser model has an extra compartment which collects the ground coffee and distributes it when needed in specific doses. On the other hand a doserless model discharges ground coffee through a chute directly to the portafilter.
As a rule the compartment is divided in several pie shaped parts which spin with the help of a lever. Each pull of lever will pour about 7 grams of ground coffee but this can vary. From there can be collected in the filter basket. Usually found in commercial grade espresso grinders the advantages are obvious. It is the most efficient method to serve accurately multiple customers in a short time.
On the other hand a doser for home use may not be the best option since it works better when it is fully loaded. If you drink just a couple of espresso per day you should better aim for a doserless model. Only this way you will get fresh ground every time. The drawback of doserless though is that it requires to grind the exact amount of coffee you are going to use. Additionally it can get really messy if you are not skilled.
At the end it is most of all a matter of personal choice. For instance many people enjoy the feeling of a doser as it resembles professionalism. Other go for a doserless just to be able to extract the freshest ground whenever possible and avoid waste.
In addition to these terms, there are other features that some machines have, that, if affordable, could help make your life easier. There are timers that grind preloaded beans at a specific time, features that keep grinders cleaner, and others, but those are periphery and entirely to your discretion to make based on preference and budget.
Ultimately, when choosing a grinder one should pick a doserless burr grinder, then decide your budget and priorities with the other qualities. If you want a reliable burr coffee grinder you should definitely consider the Baratza Virtuoso or the Breville Smart Grinder Pro which were recently reviewed!